There will always exist certain demographics that, per capita, experience much more prevalent rates of mental health difficulties and illness than others. One that can often be overlooked is college students.
Though in some respects college students often experience the prime of their lives while attending college in many respects, significant forces and stressors exert themselves on those college students as well. The college experience is often full of intensely new emotional and physical influences. It’s important to be aware of how the college experience can heighten students’ risks of experiencing mental health difficulties.
Why mental health needs are heightened during college
College creates an environment in which a number of potential stressors can often be more forcefully exerted on a college student than at any other time in life. Any one of these forces increases an individual’s likelihood of experiencing mental illness. And when an individual experiences more than one at once, that likelihood increases tremendously. Examples of these stressors include the following:
- Increased pressure in the form of academic expectations and rigor.
- Different and/or increased social pressure from peers, often ones in close proximity for significant portions of daily life (living, working, studying).
- Lessened or virtually nonexistent interaction/proximity with previous supportive figures, such as parents, trusted teachers, or mentors.
- Different and/or increased logistical/administrative demands in learning how to meet subsistent life needs.
- Increased daily activities, especially when those activities inhibit getting adequate sleep.
Experiencing more than one of these effects at once can create a compounded strain on an individual’s mental health and accelerate the regression of mental health compromises into fully-fledged mental illnesses if that individual does not seek help or receive adequate support.
Recognising signs of mental health compromises in college students
Whether you are a college student yourself or are involved with college students in some capacity (like a professor, parent, or friend to a college student), it is important to have a basic understanding of the more common strains and families of mental illness. This will help you speak more knowledgeably, detect possible indicators that a college student in your life is experiencing mental health stresses or difficulties, and be better equipped to respond should a mental health difficulty surface around you. Though a wide spectrum of mental illnesses exists, a few rank amongst the most common types to be experienced by a college student:
- Eating disorders can manifest in one of several ways. Noticeable changes in weight or appetite, especially in conjunction with mood shifts or increased stress, should be taken seriously.
- Anxiety and depression can manifest as mood swings, loss of or change in appetite, or unexpected behavior.
- Other diagnosable mental health conditions such as bipolar disorder also often include symptoms that relate to temperament change and might also affect other signs of health and wellbeing such as appetite.
Be aware that certain demographics – especially minorities, students from lower income families, or those with more difficult histories – can be particularly susceptible to experiencing mental illness due to multiple factors:
- Cultural stigmatisation
- Unhealthy family dynamics or lack of family support
- Restricted access to health resources or insurance
The importance of supporting college students and keeping an eye out for the signs of mental stress or illness rises significantly for students within these demographics.
Whether you are a college student yourself or interact with one (or many), it is important to familiarise yourself with the basics of mental health and learn the indicators or signs that might suggest a struggle with mental health. Strong mental health awareness is critical to help our young adults learn to thrive in the college setting.
Ellen Diamond did her degree in psychology at the University of Edinburgh. She interested in mental health and well-being.